ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie, speaks to Airmen of the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadron, Aug. 9, 2010. General Ritchie is the only U.S. Air Force pilot ace in the Vietnam War. He toured Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., speaking to Airmen across the Bomb Wing, and was a guest speaker at the 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Corey Hook)
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie speaks to the Airmen Leadership School class of 10-7, Aug. 9, 2010. Retired Brig. Gen. Ritchie is a recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Air Force. He toured Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., speaking to Airmen across the Bomb Wing, and was a guest speaker at the 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Corey Hook)
by Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
8/17/2010 - ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., were given a rare glimpse into U.S. Air Force history when they were visited by the only U.S. Air Force pilot ace in the Vietnam War, Aug. 8 through 13.
Retired Brig. Gen. R. Steve Ritchie, as a captain, shot down his fifth MiG-21 Aug. 28, 1972, nearly two months after an aerial dogfight where he downed two MiGs with three missiles in 1 minute, 29 seconds.
All of these accomplishments came after breaking his leg twice, once during eighth grade and again during ninth grade, and listening to a bone specialist tell him during high school he would never play any strenuous sports again.
General Ritchie took these hardships and turned them into a lifetime of distinguished service, which he based around his most important trait, integrity.
"There is nothing more important than integrity," he said. "If our word isn't good then there is nothing else."
In addition to speaking on the value of integrity, General Ritchie also spoke to an Airman Leadership School class during his visit.
"Good leadership is fundamental. I've had the opportunity to work for and work with some of the best examples of military leadership," he said. "It's pushed me to be a positive influence on young Airmen throughout my career."
General Ritchie's career has been marked by numerous awards, decorations and milestones. After completing 339 combat missions, which totaled more than 800 flying hours, he returned as one of the most highly decorated pilots of the Vietnam War. Some of his awards include: the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 25 Air Medals.
With all of General Ritchie's accomplishments, he had nothing but praise and admiration when he spoke to the Airmen of the 37th Bomb Squadron.
"Pilots today are better educated and every bit as motivated as they were in my time," he said.
General Ritchie said the education and motivation of today's pilots is essential to successfully operate in today's dangerous climate.
"I don't think freedom has ever been more challenged than it is today," he said. "Freedom is a very precious commodity and must be defended at all costs."
For General Ritchie, his life was never about creating a legacy with the Air Force, it was about defending freedom while living the values he held dear. However, despite not wanting a legacy, he was able to instill one through a lifetime of service to the United States of America and to the servicemembers who are a part of its military.
"It's not every day you get to meet a living legend," said Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, 28th Bomb Wing commander. "We gain strength from the proud heritage Air Force heroes like General Ritchie built -- what a tremendous opportunity for our Airmen."